Who is Happy you might ask? Some of you already know her … she’s a friend of a young lady from Wilmette, Illinois named Kate (what a great name don’t you think??).
Kate’s fifth grade teacher thought it would be fun for the class to learn about the world so all the kids sent their Happy friends off on a journey, hoping to hear from them along the way. Through my friend Alison, Happy has accompanied me on my travels this year, but this is the first time Happy is appearing on the blog – wow! Happy should really be en route back to Illinois as it is coming to the end of the school year, but instead (young) Kate decided Happy should stay on her travels and continue to send greetings from more parts of the world. So here goes. It’s a challenge getting around here in Dhaka due to the difficulties arranging transportation, me not speaking Bangla and the bureaucracy & negotiations that is needed to get into any building! So I decided to bite the bullet and book myself on another tour …. it made it much easier. Our first stop was the National Parliament Building, but due to security restrictions, we could not enter the grounds or the building. I was pretty disappointed with that as I was dying to be able to tell a great story to Mike Epp and Alicia Lesniak – the only two architects I know who would be interested in the details. Louis Kahn, a famous US architect, designed this building based on Bangladeshi heritage & culture, the light and water being key themes. Remember Bangladesh is in the Ganges delta, so the light is unbroken by mountains and there is water water water everywhere. The project started in 1961 by the President of Pakistan, halted during Bangladesh’s fight for independence (which they won in 1971) and the building was finally completed in 1982. The photos of the building are amazing, and I would have loved to have spent a chunk of time there, but alas, it was not meant to be. Check out this link for more information on the Bangladesh’s National Parliament Building.
Next up, we visited the Dhakeshwari Temple, that National Hindu Temple of Bangladesh and I must say, looking very different to any Hindu temple I saw in Nepal.
There is dispute as to when it was built and by whom, but given the design and it’s heavy Arakanese influences, it’s thought it was designed by the son of a Myanmar King in the 1600s . There is no dispute that the temple is the home to the Goddess Durga and Setu, being a practicing Hindu himself, holds this temple in high regard. He told me there are no sacrifices of cocks or water buffalo at all here in this temple, unlike in Hindu temples in Nepal. But for festivals, goats are sacrificed. Next up was a break for tea. I have discovered the Bangladeshi probably drink more tea than the Irish. Setu admitted to drinking about 15 cups a day (reminds me of my coffee addiction all those years ago). We went to Setu’s local tea stall, he was born and grew up in this area so I opted to go to his local tea stall, even if it was a little out of the way. Nothing like the real thing. The milk tea in Bangladesh is different to the Nepalese milk tea. In Nepal, a black tea is mixed with spices, loads of sugar and milk, boiled and then strained into the cup. Sort of like chai with a subtle difference – the spices are different for sure. Here in Bangladesh, the milk tea is made with a red tea mixed with boiled water, condensed milk is stirred in with copious spoons of sugar (goodness, waaaay too sweet!). Fortunately, they also make a ginger tea which is made of the red tea, boiled water with chunks of fresh ginger. I skipped the addition of sugar. We stood around with a few of the locals drinking our tea. Needless to say there were many people who came up to me just to stare, take in my pale skin and mu height (I feel a giant and I am only 5′ 7″). Setu did not get much of a break, having to explain who I was and what the heck I was doing at his local tea stall.
After our break, we headed off to see the Khan Mohammad Mirza Mosque in Old Dhaka. Setu had to call out for someone to unlock the gate to let us in. Shoes off on the street before we entered the gate. Feet and face washing stations were to the right of the mosque. The mosque itself is raised with I think about 30 steps up to the prayer hall. Living quarters are underneath the raised prayer hall. Beautiful red stone built in the 1700s and it is currently being repaired as evident by patches of new render around the building.
The man who let us in, told us our time was up so off we trotted, pulling on our shoes on the road outside. Walking back along the street, I had to take a photo of the local butcher. In Nepal you just really see chickens and goats, never a cow – hence my interest!
Postscript: Ian Johnson tells me it’s probably a gall bladder. The gallbladder bile and possibly gallstones are used in a variety of health related applications apparently. Thanks Ian!
A short walk to Lalbagh Fort and it was like entering into an oasis of peace and calm after the hustle and bustle of the streets. It was also close to midday and I was feeling the heat no doubt. A beautiful serene place with lovely gardnes built in 1600s, and not yet completed.
Lalbagh Fort is apparently a place to meet people of the opposite sex, or to come on a date, which explained the numerous couples I saw, and probably why the young 16-year old was there by himself. At one point both Setu and he had a discussion about a beautiful young girl with an older man. They decided he was her teacher, not her father or husband. I have no clue how they came to that conclusion! As the Armenian Church was close by, we walked over and as usual had to seek permission to get through the locked entrance gate. The Armenian Church is just beautiful, recently renovated spearheaded by a Torontonian with Armenian heritage. This seems to be the norm around the world, where those of Armenian heritage sponsor Armenian churches worldwide to keep the memory of them. In Dhaka, there is a very small Armenian community, but it was a burgeoning group of business people in the 17th century. Andrew, a gentleman I met at Manzoor’s dinner party, told me he and his wife got married in this church some years ago. They are not of Armenian heritage but just loved the old church and it’s surroundings. They are originally from the UK and have lived on and off in Dhaka for the past 30 years. Andrew encouraged me to visit the church if I got a chance, glad I got the chance!
Postscript: Another confirmation from Ian, the eagle is the National Bird of Armenia and it appears in the country’s coat of arms, along with the lion. Both were chosen because of their power, courage, patience, wisdom and nobility in the animal kingdom. Thanks again Ian! You are always the fountain of knowledge,
We broke for lunch at this point, check out the next posting for the fun I had in the afternoon.